Of all the Honeycomb tablet manufacturers, Asus has been one of, if not the most successful. In May and April, the company sold 500,000 Eee Pad Transformers, with another 300,000 in June. So, why Asus and not Lenovo, Toshiba, Motorola, or one of the other many tablet makers? Because the Taiwanese company understood early on that if it was going to go toe-to-toe with the iPad it had to do two things: differentiate on form factor and on price. The fact that you can pick up the Eee Pad Transformer tablet and the dock — which adds eight hours of battery life and a keyboard — for $550 has made it wholly different from not only every other cookie cutter Android tab, but, yes, also the iPad.
But in typical laptop manufacturer fashion, one model is never enough. The Eee Pad Slider is the Transformer’s new sibling, and like its older brother it comes with a keyboard. Except this time it is attached — the 10.1-inch tablet’s keyboard, as its name implies, slides out from underneath it. It’s sure got the form factor differentiation and at $479 it’s also got the price. So, has Asus nailed the equation once again with the Slider? Or should it have simply called it a day with the Transformer? Read on for the full review.
Hardware / design
What really sets the Slider apart is the fact that you can slide the display upwards to reveal its physical keyboard
At this point, most of the tablets on my desk look extremely similar. And by extremely similar, I mean they either look a lot like the original iPad or the iPad 2. However, there’s no mistaking the Slider for either of Apple’s tablets. While the top of the device has the typical black glossy display — albeit with a much larger bezel (more on that below) — the back and edges are coated in a combination of white and champagne-colored, soft-touch plastic. There’s also a mocha / black version, but you know how some of us around here get pumped up about white gadgets.
Of course, what really sets the Slider apart is the fact that you can slide the display upwards by lifting a small latch behind the top of the panel to reveal its physical keyboard. It’s a bit odd that you don’t actually push up from the bottom of the screen, like you would on a smartphone, but it seems that lifting the screen allows the mechanism to glide along smoother. Speaking of the mechanism, which you can see by only peeking around the sides, it works quite well and it’s sturdier than I imagined it would be. (Asus says the test units had to pass a total of 30,000 swing counts, which consisted of six cycles per minute.) Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust the angle of the screen — once popped into the keyboard mode, it’s locked at a 45-degree angle.
Bottom line: the Slider is more akin to a basic 10.1-inch netbook than a tablet
There’s no doubt that the Slider’s design and the way the tablet’s screen slides up vertically to reveal the keyboard is incredibly awesome, but sadly, it’s that very uniqueness that causes the entire package to be overly chunky. Being that the device is really a tablet layered on top of a keyboard, the Slider measures .7-inches thick, or what would be the equivalent of two iPad 2s or Galaxy Tab 10.1s stacked on top of each other. And as you might have guessed, it also causes it to weigh a heavier 2.1 pounds; that’s .77 pounds more than the iPad and Galaxy Tab 10.1, though .8 pounds less than the Transformer. (The Transformer’s dock happens to weigh more since it houses a 24.4Wh battery.) I’m not trying to harp on the dimensions here, but this is the obvious compromise of the form factor — there’s no way to leave the keyboard and a few extra ounces home and it is just heavy and cumbersome to hold. Bottom line: the Slider is more akin to a basic 10.1-inch netbook than a tablet.
To its credit, the Slider’s extra girth does allow it to accommodate a full-size USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD card slot, a volume rocker, and a Mini HDMI jack. And yes, Honeycomb’s improved USB host support allowed for successfully connecting a mouse and USB flash drive. The front edge of the tablet houses a speaker strip, which doesn’t produce what I would call a pleasant listening experience, but it’s loud and decent enough for pumping out the audio of a YouTube clip. If you’re looking to listen to some Pandora or Rdio while working I’d use the headphone jack.
The idea that you would hold this thing up and take a picture in public is insane
I’m not going to spend too long talking about the 5-megapixel rear camera on the Slider because the idea that you would hold this thing up and take a picture in public is insane. It’s not only heavy and awkward, but it just isn’t worth the effort since the picture quality is beyond disappointing. Every image I shot, whether they were inside or outside, was grainy and slightly blurry. All the evidence you need is in the gallery below. By the way, the camera is on the bottom of the keyboard so it hits whatever surface you sit it on when in keyboard mode — there are some rubber feet on there to protect it. The front-facing 1.2-megapixel shooter is what you’d expect — you’re not going to want to take your new Facebook Timeline shot with this, but it is fine for video chatting or checking your teeth for food.
My major complaint about the screen is the larger bezel
Like the Transformer, the Slider’s 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800-resolution IPS display is very high quality and quite impressive for the price. Viewing angles are extremely wide, which is of the utmost importance since you’ll be looking at the screen from a 45-degree angle (if not slightly greater) at all times because of the fixed positioning of the hinge. It’s also sufficiently bright, although not as beaming at max brightness as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the iPad. It’s also pretty handy that you can adjust the screen brightness using a keyboard shortcut (Fn+B and Fn+N).
However, my major complaint about the screen is the larger bezel. The display is flanked by 1.2 inches of vertical frame — or at least, that’s the measurement from the widest part of the slightly curved screen edge. It’s obvious that this was a move to accommodate a wider keyboard, but the result is an awkward looking display when the keyboard is hidden and you hold the tablet in either landscape or portrait mode.
Sliding mechanism / keyboard
Asus spent most of its time perfecting the means and not the end since the keyboard itself feels cheap
However, if you’re buying the Slider, you’re buying it for the appeal of always having a physical keyboard with your tablet. As I mentioned before the sliding mechanism feels quite solid — the metal sheet that props up the back of the screen and the spring feels very taut — and there’s no wobble to the screen once it’s in keyboard mode. As I’ve also mentioned a few times now, you can’t adjust the screen angle, but that does mean that the screen is locked into place quite firmly. However, it seems like Asus spent most of its time perfecting the means and not the end since the keyboard itself feels cheap. The entire panel is made of a plastic and the grey keys themselves remind me of a toy you get in a Happy Meal in terms of construction. There’s a plasticy click when your fingers strike the surface and a bend to the entire panel. Overall, I much prefer the Transformer’s keyboard in terms of build quality.
You’ll be hard pressed to run out of keyboard options with this tablet
Beyond the disappointing construction of the keyboard, the chiclet layout is reminiscent of what you’ll find on an average netbook, and while it is cramped, I was able to type this entire review at a very fast clip in Polaris Office. I was also able to fit the device on an inordinately small table at Starbucks, so there’s some advantage to the cramped dimensions. Even better, Asus has included some Honeycomb-specific keys, including home, back, and search buttons. Specific keyboard shortcuts, including Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, work as you’d expect. The integration with the OS is solid, though, I have to say at times I was actually missing the touchpad input of the Transformer dock — alternating from keyboard to touchscreen can get a bit tiring.
Naturally, typing on the physical keyboard is going to be the fastest method of text input, but Asus also includes its own software keyboard that’s a bit more welcoming in appearance than Google’s version. The keyboard has a number row and the keys are a bit rounder. If it isn’t your thing, you can always switch back to the stock offering or the physical panel. Point is, you’ll be hard pressed to run out of keyboard options with this tablet.
The keyboard plays quite well with the operating system
The Slider runs the latest version of Honeycomb (3.2) with some minor adjustments from Asus. The most noticeable tweaks come with the slightly redesigned back, home, and recent apps buttons, the aforementioned software keyboard, and that unique "MyWater" wallpaper pictured above. The water level actually lowers as the battery drains. It’s a very cool trick, but it causes the tablet to be noticeably sluggish, especially when changing the screen orientation, and likely causes the actual battery to drain even faster. Beyond all that, Asus bundles a lot of its own apps, including MyNet (a DLNA assistant), MyCloud (which includes unlimited storage for a year), MyLibrary, and @vibe. Splashtop’s MyDesktop is included in the MyCloud app for remote desktop control, and while it could have been quite useful with this form factor, its was rather sluggish when I tried to control a Windows 7 laptop. On top of that, it requires the PC and Slider to be on the same network, which sort of defeats the entire purpose.
Other than all that, you’re looking at the familiar Honeycomb experience, and as I mentioned above, the keyboard plays quite well with the operating system, morphing the device into more of a workhorse than most of the tablets out there. I wouldn’t say it’s a "laptop replacement," but it’s certainly worthy of the "netbook replacement" moniker. I was able to write the entirety of this review on the system while simultaneously listening to Pandora, checking my Gmail, chatting in Google Talk, and periodically looking things up on the Web. It’s more than capable at multitasking, though I have to say I wish Honeycomb handled navigation between multiple programs better.
Of course, before I end the software section, I need to add the now-standard Honeycomb ecosystem note. In fact, every time I review one of these tablets, I hope there will be some better apps in the Market and I’ll no longer have to add this part, but I’m continuously disappointed. Yes, there are the apps you need to get by — Twitter and Facebook phone apps, news reader apps (like Pulse), and a slew of games — but very few of them provide the immersive experience of any of the iPad apps and many of them continue to be unstable. I got two always-delightful Force Close warnings in Plume this time around.
The presence of the keyboard means you’ll likely be pushing this thing to its multitasking limits
The Slider has the same internals as the Transformer and most of its Honeycomb tablet compatriots — a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of local storage. For the most part, performance is on par with the other dual-core Honeycomb tablets, meaning the internals are peppy enough to push along the OS and a number of applications. However, as you’ve probably gleaned from parts of the review, there’s some noticeable sluggishness when it comes to heavy animation aspects, including the wallpaper and an overload of widgets. That aside, the presence of the keyboard means you’ll likely be pushing this thing to its multitasking limits, yet I still found switching between open applications to be quite smooth and running multiple apps at a time to be no issue. The only real issue is stability of some apps.
The Transformer blew all the other tablets away in terms of battery life because of the dock’s extra cell, but sadly, the Slider cannot claim the same power efficiency. On The Verge battery test, which cycles through a series of websites and high resolution images with brightness set at 65 percent, the Slider petered out at five hours and 50 minutes — just ten minutes shy of a full six hours. That’s shorter than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the iPad, although I was able to get closer to six and a half hours during regular use. The tablet does seem to charge up fairly quickly but the placement of the 40-pin charging port on the rear left-side is awkward and the charging cable wound up getting lodged between the tablet and the keyboard when I’d snap the device back into tablet mode. It seems like something that could have been solved by placing it on one of the edges.
When it came to writing the conclusion of the Eee Pad Transformer review, I could confidently say that those looking for a tablet with a keyboard didn’t have to look any further. But that’s simply not the case for the Slider. While it may have a more clever and innovative form factor, the fact that the keyboard is always present causes it to be the chunkiest tablet on the market. And even then, the keyboard isn’t as nice as the Transformer’s or other third-party docks for the iPad. Yes, the $469 Slider is certainly a head-turning solution and one that may be more convenient for those that constantly require a physical keyboard to accompany their tablet. However, when you can get a Transformer with a better keyboard, a screen that can be angled to your liking, and more than two times the battery life for just $71 more, it seems like a no-brainer. It’s for those reasons that I doubt Asus will sell as many Sliders as it has Transformers — but, of course, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Asus’ crazy tablet form factor and price one-two-punch.